Glaciologists say Thwaites Glacier is melting faster than expected

The University of South Florida (USF) has conducted a new study to learn more about Thwaites Glacier. The researchers used underwater drones to have an atlas of the seabed, under the glacier. They discovered that the glacier melted faster in recent years compared to past centuries. This means that such a rapid rate of decline could occur in the future.

The Thwaites Glacier

Thwaites Glacier is found in Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica, at the entrance to several valleys below sea level. It serves as a ice dam, preventing the rest from collapsing. It is the largest glacier, roughly the size of Florida. Its melting could cause a sea ​​level rise of almost a meter. This is why it is nicknamed “the glacier of the apocalypse”.

The water gradually seeps into the back of the glacier

Mapping showed more than 160 parallel ridges, following the retreat of the glacier. They present themselves as ” a fingerprint “, revealing the parts formerly covered by the glacier. Thanks to these ridges, the researchers were able to observe that Thwaites has contracted twice as fast over the past 200 years. During the past six months, it retreated at a rate of over 2.1 km per year.

Satellite observation campaigns have detected new cracks, one of which even reaches the middle of the glacier. The pictures also show that the ice is melting below Thwaites. Also, the water begins to enter very slowly at the back, where a rock retains the glacier. The glacier is about to break away from the rock.

Ice caps aren’t what researchers thought they were

Susie Neilson from Insider reported that an imagery study, conducted in 2020, found that Thwaites and the Pine Island Glacier lying next to it are breaking up faster than expected. Up front, an ice platform protects Thwaites. However, it is deteriorating faster and faster. In December 2021, researchers announced that it could melt in the next 5 years. It would raise sea levels.

There are still uncertainties and questions that remain unanswered regarding these ice sheets. After taking a closer look at them, USF marine geophysicist Alastair Graham, who led the study, said thatthey are not what researchers thought they were.

“A little kick to Thwaites could lead to a big reaction. »

Alastair Graham

SOURCE: SCIENCEALERT

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